Part Three begins in the spring of 1949. Sal moves to Denver, even though none of his friends remains there, and gets a job in a fruit market. He has ideas of settling down in Denver, becoming a "patriarch." He is lonely and wanders the streets of Denver, wishing that he were another race: black, Mexican, or Japanese. He hates being a white man and despises the life his race has given him. A "rich girl" whom Sal knows gives him one hundred dollars to go to Frisco, so he gets a ride with a travel bureau car and takes off back towards the West. At two o'clock in the morning, Sal arrives in Frisco and immediately goes to Dean's house to find out "what was on his mind." Dean answers the door naked, and the two begin talking in order to "get with it."
Sal's presence in the house causes a disruption for Camille. Dean had begun to settle down, but with Sal's arrival Camille knows that the madness will take him over again. Dean recounts his past year in Frisco: after stalking Marylou, he smoked some bad marijuana and had visions and nightmares in which the truth of his life came to him. He decided that he was love with Marylou and was going to have to kill her. After a standoff with a gun in which Dean declared that one of them must die, Marylou talked Dean out of his madness. Later, Marylou married a used-car dealer and Dean did not see her anymore. Dean hurt his hand trying to hit Marylou in the face, and an infection has caused it to become slightly deformed. Dean tells Sal of all his illnesses and sicknesses and about his daughter and domestic life. Dean seems to have finally settled down.
But Camille comes home one day to find her house and family in disarray. She throws Sal and Dean out. Sal realizes that Dean's broken thumb and bandaged hand represents what Dean has become, someone who "no longer cared about anything (as before) but now ... also cared about everything in principle ...." Dean simply takes life as it comes to him. Sal and Dean talk about going to New York and then to Italy on the money that Sal can get from his publisher for the book he just submitted. The two friends share an unspoken moment together in which they both realize their lives are intrinsically tied together before boarding a trolley-determined to get to Italy.
Dean and Sal go to a bar, where they make plans "to do everything we'd never done and had been too silly to do in the past." First, they call their friend Roy Johnson to chauffeur them around for a two day "kick" in San Francisco before they leave for New York. They try to find Remi Boncoeur, but he is no longer in the shack in Mill City. They go to Ed Dunkel's house, but he has left Galatea again and is in Denver. Eventually the new group-Sal, Dean, Galatea, Marie (a girl Dean picks up), and Roy Johnson and his wife Dorothy-end up sitting around Galatea's apartment, sullen at the disarray of their lives.
The women harass Dean for his irresponsibility and the mess he has made of Marylou and Camille's lives. Sal describes it as a maternal instinct, harassing Dean the way a mother would an "errant child." Dean does not care and just giggles and dances at their insults. Sal realizes that Dean has become the "HOLY GOOF," the "Idiot." Yet, Sal also begins to compare Dean to a holy teacher and this group of friends to Dean's disciples. As the insults keep flying, Dean finally becomes "BEAT-the root, the soul of Beatific," as Sal says. He does not attempt to talk or party his way out of the troubles that have come his way. Sal tries to convince the group to go hear jazz and forget Dean and the troubles he brings. He also tries to convince them to follow Dean because he knows they "want to know what he does next and that's because he's got the secret that we're all busting to find." The others object, calling Dean nothing more than a con man.
The group eventually leave and find an African American jazz club, where they party and dance. Sal describes the madness of the club and Dean's intensity, matched only by that of a "tenorman" who drives the music of the club. The tenorman's son shows up and takes his father, Sal, and Dean to another jazz club called Jamsono's Nook, where they find a musician who reminds them of Carlo Marx. Roy Johnson picks them up and takes them to another club before heading home at dawn. Dean and Sal go home with another musician to drink beer and tell stories. Dean praises the musician's wife because she never had a harsh word for her husband even though he came home at dawn after a night of drinking. Dean and Sal call up one of Dean's railroading friends to sleep in his room. The next morning Sal gets their bags from Galatea's, and they prepare to take off for New York.
During their first ride, Sal and Dean sit in the back seat of a Chrysler and talk about the jazz men they saw last night. Dean says that the tenorman had "it" and begins to explain to Sal what "it" is. He describes "it" as a sensation of being out of time and body, in touch with an infinite soul within himself and within everyone else. In the backseat Dean and Sal swap excited stories of their childhoods, both feeling that they have "IT." Dean tells of his days with his father, the bum, and Sal tells stories of riding in the back seats of cars and dreaming of horses. When the car stops in Sacramento, the driver, a homosexual, tries to seduce Dean, but Dean talks him into letting him drive the next day, and the group starts making good time towards Denver.
Dean's reckless driving scares the other passengers in the car, but Sal and Dean do not care and instead talk incessantly about life and the meaning of things. In Salt Lake City, the place that Dean was born, Dean has a revelation about how "People change, they eat meals year after year and change with every meal." After switching drivers a few times, the car finally makes it to Denver. Dean and Sal are left on the side of a street.
This part begins with Sal's journey to Denver to start his life again. He sees himself as a kind of "patriarch" but quickly finds that without his friends in town, life becomes boring-he knows he must go to San Francisco. Before leaving, though, Sal takes a walk through the African American parts of Denver and, with jealousy, longs for the life of another culture. It is in this part that Kerouac sees the hope and promise of individuality and freedom not in the dominant white culture of America but in the excluded groups of minority America. Sal believes that it is these minority groups that retain the true individuality and freedom that make America a great land. It is significant that On the Road is published just as the civil rights movement is beginning. For Sal, however, the racism and exclusion in America provide a route to true freedom and happiness.
As Sal leaves for San Francisco, he feels liberated from his past in a way that he had not previously felt. As Sal arrives in San Francisco, he finds Dean more broken than before, his broken thumb (a hitchhiking necessity) a symbol of the toll conventional life takes on a man. When Camille becomes frustrated with Dean's growing madness and kicks Sal and Dean out of the house, Dean and Sal find the fault for such behavior with Camille, a matriarchal figure who only wants to spoil their fun. This scene once again demonstrates Dean's and Sal's inability to understand women as equal partners in their journey, although one wonders about the roles of nature and nurture in the conflict between the sexes. Why is it that the men find it so much easier and enjoyable to go on the road? Do the women who travel with them count as equal partners?
Gender issues continue to play an important role as this section unfolds. During their two day "kick" in San Francisco, Sal and Dean, who have committed to be buddies for the rest of their lives, meet up with Galatea Dunkel. She again has been "given the slip" by Ed. It is at Galatea's house that Galatea, who was not afraid of Dean, confronts him about his behavior and lack of responsibility towards women. Instead of reforming Dean, however, this derision causes Dean to take on a kind of saintliness, at least in Sal's eyes. Confronting these harsh words makes Dean the prototype for what "Beat" is: a person who will sacrifice anything and anybody to find a true yet impermanent identity, a person who finds "it."
The next scenes take the men and women back to the streets of San Francisco and into the jazz clubs. Any notions of responsibility and respectability are forgotten as the travelers party and dance through the night. Here, Kerouac's writing most takes on the form of the jazz music he loves. His sentences run on and are interspersed with words that describe the sounds and rhythms of the club. There is little narrative in this section, mostly description of the frantic and wild jazz club and the music that drove these men mad. African American culture is again idolized, and the jazz musician whom Dean and Sal go home with seems to have the perfect situation, a wife who does not complain about his behavior.
As the two begin their journey to New York, a discussion about "it" from the previous night comes back up in the back seat of the car they are sharing. Dean compares and contrasts "it" to the fury of the jazz music the night before and with the conventional worries and problems of their fellow travelers. It is clear from this passage that ordinary people who live conventional lives do not have "it." In the stories that the two tell each other, time again plays a role. They are unable to truly capture the past and thus choose to be spontaneous in the present.